R1 : The Alien Myth Exposed
We had just about got used to being back in London again when the alien issue blew up in an unexpected direction. Ken Steminev, an established author who specialized in debunking, had done an exposé of the 'Alien Myth' and his publisher's publicity machine was in overdrive. Steminev had already written books knocking the Atlantis myth, the Saddleworth Moor UFO landing, the Kennedy assassination 'cover up' and the Dalamier Incident in northern France. Now, it was our turn.
The Daily News, the tabloid newspaper which was trying to get itself taken more seriously, was publishing extracts from the book as part of a multi-media promotional scheme, which included a 'free' DVD for any readers who collected a vast number of tokens. The abridged version of the book was our source of information on the third Tuesday in July. Fereng had disappeared off on some expedition with Frosch, Hathor and Tolshivar, and so Iktar and I were left with the job of finding out what Mr. Steminev had to say about us.
"He wasn't impressed by our beams in and out, was he?" I remarked to Iktar after a preliminary scan through the double-centre-page article.
"He reckons all the 'beam me up, Scotty' stuff was carefully stage-managed using traditional theatre magic effects," said Iktar. "I bet he also ignores lots of anomalies and things which don't fit his thesis."
"The usual stitch up these guys do?"
"Pretty much. Rant and rave about a few things and ignore the inconvenient rest."
"I suppose he just slots his alleged material into a formula and lets his computer write his book," I said dismissively.
"And people who believe him will buy his book because it proves them right," Iktar said with a cynical smile, "and people who don't believe him will buy the book so they can tear his so-called arguments to bits. What you call a win-win situation for Mr. Steminev."
"Maybe we ought to write a counterblast telling everyone he's right, we're not aliens, but he's wrong when he says we can't do our weird stuff for real."
"Yeah, and people would believe we're Survivors, not aliens? Post-dead human beings enjoying an after-life?" laughed Iktar. "Dream on, buddy!"
"Are you going to buy the paper to see how he explains the aliens' so-called weapons tomorrow?"
"Doubt it. I wonder what Frosch is up to?"
"Tolsh was saying something about tweaking up the SIT mob."
"Yes, it's about time someone did that."
Frosch showed up at our apartment in the middle of the afternoon. It was a sunny day and Tolshivar had taken Hathor and Fereng to see some of London's less accessible sights. The government's supposedly top secret command and control centres -- for use in the event of a war which affected us directly or a major national disaster -- were among his particular favourites.
"The guy you saw dusted in Hyde Park?" Frosch said when Iktar had dragged herself away from the computer. "He was called Petron."
"Weird name," said Iktar.
"And not his own," said Frosch. "As far as I can tell, he was an illegal. From Iraq. Someone the Trimorate were exploiting. Successfully. They put him through their experimental process."
"What, they made him post-dead?" said Iktar. "Into a Survivor?"
"Does that mean they killed him?" I added. "This Iraqi illegal?"
"In effect, yes," said Frosch. "That's exactly what they did. And it freaked him out. They thought they had him fully sedated but he remembered dying and coming back, and he couldn't handle it."
"What's the big deal about that?" scoffed Iktar. "We all did it."
"They also gave him some sort of post-hypnotic conditioning before they wrote him off," Frosch added. "The same with our friend with the sword, Mr. Clade. Except, they weren't planning to turn him into one of the post-dead after they'd conditioned him, of course."
"So we've got mad scientists doing mind control and killing volunteers to see if they become post-dead?" said Iktar. "Well, I suppose it could happen."
"And when Petron did a runner," said Frosch, "they sent Clade after him to terminate the failed experiment."
"Only their Slayer freaked out when he detected two more Survivors watching him in action?" I said.
"Something like that," said Frosch. "And it's probably just as well you wrote him off. The last thing we need is for the mad scientists to get independent corroboration that Survival is possible naturally."
"What about him? The Slayer?" said Iktar. "Have they got an understudy standing by in case their next experiment goes wonky?"
"I don't know yet," said Frosch.
"So in the meantime, what?" said Iktar. "The SIT coppers sit on the Clade case? Your son of a bitch at the Ministry of Defence, whoever he is, keeps watching the mad scientists, ready to jump in and nationalize them? And in the meantime, the Trimorate carry on with their experiments? Possibly while looking for a new Slayer?"
"About that, yes," said Frosch.
"Makes you glad us aliens are getting off this planet fairly soon," said Iktar. "Do we have a firm date for that yet, by the way?"
"Provisionally, it's sometime in August. For the main body," said Frosch. "Although there will be a few people staying on for a while, of course."
"Probably, until the CIA and mobs like them run out of ready cash," laughed Iktar.
The tabloid newspaper's part in publicizing Ken Steminev's latest book came to an end on Thursday, although there was a lively debate running and running on the letters page. A surprisingly large majority of the readers didn't believe the debunking job. The Earthers wanted their alien visitors and they weren't going to let some writer or the Daily News take them away.
Fereng had mentioned, during the day, that he had a roulette system. And so a party of us headed for Cassidy's Club, the North Road Mob's number one establishment, on Thursday evening to watch him in action. Fereng had been practising beaming in and out. He seemed quite disappointed by the lack of reaction when six of us -- Iktar, Hathor, Frosch, Tolshivar, myself and the guy with the roulette system -- beamed in to the lobby of Cassidy's. If anyone looked surprised, it was because aliens had arrived unexpectedly rather than because aliens had arrived among them.
The ladies, Fereng and Tolshivar headed for the casino room. Frosch steered me into a discussion with Debbie Boon, who was propping up the bar when we arrived, and her companion Mike Verbrecher, one of the North Road Mob's sub-bosses. I assumed that General Frosch was about to unload some disinformation and he wanted me to back him up.
"Have you seen this, Hadukar?" Verbrecher asked me after retrieving the centre pages of Wednesday's Daily News from behind the bar.
"Very amusing," I remarked after a cursory flick through the breathless summary of that book's early chapters.
"The thing that surprises me is this idiot didn't wait till we'd gone before he published his book," said Frosch. "So we weren't around to call him a tripe-hound."
"Maybe he thought you had gone, Sokar," said Debbie Boon. "We've not seen that much of you lately."
Frosch shrugged. "Last minute panics to get everything done. They ship out most of your staff then they give you a whole bunch of extra jobs to do."
"So you're definitely outa here soon?" said Debbie.
"What is it you Earthers say?" said Frosch. "Onwards and upwards."
"And quite literally upwards, in your case," said Verbrecher. "No point asking where you're off to, I suppose?"
"Toddos Four," Frosch said, taking me by surprise as well. "I forget the local name for it but it probably translates as Earth."
"After a suitable period of leave," I mentioned, trying to recall a scenario which Tolshivar had been developing.
"Ten-four," said Frosch. "We have to shed our Earther pick-ups from here so we can have a clean start with the next bunch of Earthers."
"So there are enough civilizations up there for you to visit one every three years or so?" Verbrecher raised a thumb toward the ceiling while proving that he was more than a pretty face.
"Not really," said Frosch. "We visit places like Earth quite a few times before we find the inhabitants ready to handle contact with a more advanced species. The next bunch we're going to see are strictly bows and arrows and city states. A thousand or even fifteen hundred years from contact."
"Nose filters a necessity," I said, following the script. "To keep out the smell of horse manure," I added in response to Debbie's frown. "Or their equivalent of horses."
The story 'slipped down easily', to quote Tolshivar. The people around us knew that we were aliens, they knew for a fact that there was nothing resembling stage magic behind our beamings in and out of the club's lobby. And they were feeling smugly superior, knowing that the stuff in the Daily News was garbage -- but for a reason other than the one which they had accepted.
"What are you going to do about the book, Sokar?" Debbie asked Frosch.
"What would you suggest?" he invited.
"He's doing a live talk show on telly at the weekend," said Debbie. "What you want to do is beam in to the studio when he starts calling you hoaxers, zap him with a few million people watching and then just beam out again."
"Or park one of your shuttles on the roundabout in front of the Daily News building at lunchtime," said Verbrecher.
"Are you two familiar with the concepts 'military discipline', 'conduct unbecoming an officer' and 'court martial'?" said Frosch.
"Not to mention 'career down the tubes'?" laughed Verbrecher.
"I tell you what, the Queen is going to be a bit pissed off if you turn out to be a bunch of hoaxers," said Debbie.
"Not to mention the President of the United States and a whole bunch of other tedious political types," said Frosch.
"So you're not going to do anything?" Debbie said regretfully.
"We're certainly not going to give this character any encouragement," I said. "Or any free publicity by getting into a public argument with him."
"And people will pretty much believe what suits them and to hell with the facts," said Verbrecher.
"That's certainly our experience," I said with a nod.
"Anyway, I hope you don't let this book put you off the rest of us Earthers," said Debbie.
"Oh, your planet has a lot of good things, too," I said.
"You mentioned seeing a particularly spectacular volcano when you were in New Zealand recently, Hadukar," Frosch said.
"I thought New Zealand's supposed to be the most boring place on the planet?" said Debbie.
"We've got a planetary geologist stationed there," said Frosch. "I think I'm going to have to send a team to kidnap him when we have to leave."
"So you're not just here to study the natives, Hadukar?" said Verbrecher.
"Anything interesting, you'll find us gawking at it," I returned.
"Sounds like a great life," Verbrecher said with a touch of envy.
"If you don't weaken," Frosch said with a laugh. "So, what's been happening in London recently?"
Debbie Boon launched into a long and involved story featuring a particularly stupid blunder by her brother-in-law, the prime minister, which his staff had covered up fairly successfully. The club began to fill up as people arrived for an eyeful of the aliens -- or the hoaxers, if they believed Ken Steminev's book and the Daily News.
When Fereng had lost to his limit at the roulette table, and probably a bit more for luck, we assembled in the lobby, beamed out and left the club invisibly.
The people whom we had left behind didn't seem to think that they'd seen a trick. In fact, the newspapers and the TV news services got quite a shower of emails from people who had been at Cassidy's; or claimed that they had been at the club, when the aliens had been there. It was all good controversy and something to put between the adverts, according to Iktar.
Anyway, we were well away from the club on Thursday night/Friday morning when I remembered that someone, probably Frosch, had told me that the prime minister was supposed to have Cassidy's staked out so that he could rush there and try to contrive a meeting with the aliens. His absence during our night out left me wondering if he was sitting in a meeting somewhere, cursing the luck which had left him stuck elsewhere when a prime alien-meeting opportunity had arisen.
An even more evil thought was that old No Jacket had detached himself from some sort of gathering, broken every traffic rule in the book on the way to the club and arrived about five minutes after the aliens had left. But life is just like that, isn't it?
It was more probable, I admitted to myself, that the stories of hoaxers, rather than aliens, at large in London had sent our dear prime minister into 'be cautious' mode and he had decided, or his political handlers had decided for him, that it would be a good idea to have nothing at all to do with the alleged aliens, just to be on the safe side.
In fact, I felt, going into ultra-cynic mode, it was probable that old No Jacket was hoping against hope that someone would prove beyond any doubt that the 'aliens' were indeed hoaxers. If that were to happen, the PM could spin the fact that the 'aliens' had refused to meet him into a refusal on his part to have anything to do with a dodgy bunch.
After all, who in his right mind actually believes that there might be beings from another planet, creatures who look remarkably like Earthers, walking among us?
A major problem with that scenario arises only if the PM's relationship with the President of the US is as close as he makes out. Because Mr. President's CIA knows enough about what the aliens can do to be certain that they have access to technology which isn't available to Earthers.
The CIA won't tell that to the news media, of course, but they will tell it to the people in government who count -- if only to extract money from them for schemes to try to buy or steal that alien technology.
Naturally, Debbie Boon had plenty to say to the newspapers and she was wearing a deliberately outrageous frock for a lunchtime TV performance on the day after our appearance at Cassidy's. She was particularly scathing about the idea that the club's lobby was equipped with a set of magician's mirrors, which were used to create the illusion of aliens beaming in and out.
She also dropped a few heavy hints about how she was expecting her brother-in-law (the prime minister, the interviewer mentioned, in case anyone had no idea who she was) to spring for a decent lunch, over which she could bring him up to speed on what the aliens had told her about their immediate plans. I got the impression that General Frosch had combined tweaking the tails of the nation's politicians with his operation to 'let slip' information.
R2 : Yet Another New Face
We spent a fairly idle weekend of sight-seeing with Fereng. Then Frosch turned up to claim the New Zealander. He was offering an opportunity for Fereng to make himself useful to the cause and also earn enough money to get his geological/vulcanological website launched.
Frosch mentioned in passing that the CIA now knew, or had confirmed a theory, that the aliens were on a mission of scientific exploration as well as anthropology. Their confirmation had taken the form of the arrival over the weekend of a report from England on the latest appearance of the aliens. The CIA had been interested to learn that our party included at least one planetary geologist, and one of the CIA's strategists was already wondering whether the aliens might be willing to do some geological surveys for the good old US of A.
"Why?" Iktar asked with a frown. "What's in it for them?"
"And why can't they do their own surveys?" I added. "I thought you could do everything from space, these days. Or do they think our scanners are better than the ones they have on their satellites?"
"If we're space-traversing aliens, they must be," Iktar pointed out.
"What they're interested in is inaccessible places, like the ocean beds, and sensitive places like Antarctica," Frosch said.
"How do you know what the CIA is interested in?" Fereng asked, wearing a sceptical expression as if suspecting that the Brits were winding up a gullible antipodean.
"The CIA are one of his clients. And we're remarkably well equipped to wander around and read things over their shoulders," Iktar pointed out.
"Or sit in on their meetings as an invisible presence," I added.
"Yes, I suppose you are," Fereng said with a thoughtful nod. "Sorry, this is all very new to me."
"You'll soon catch on," said Frosch.
"So what's behind all these surveys?" Iktar brought us back to the point.
"Knowing if there's anything worth having in these inaccessible or too well watched places would help the State Department to set an appropriate moral tone," said Frosch.
"Such as when they're discussing international protection treaties?" said Fereng.
"I told you he's a bright lad," said Frosch. "Correct. State will know whether to say, 'this is the moral thing to do, to protect this area' when they know there's nothing worth having in it."
"Or they can say, 'there's nothing worth protecting here' when there's something they want?" I added.
"I'm not sure I can deliver on something as big as an ocean-bed survey," Fereng said. "Getting down there would be no problem for me now. But protecting lights and instruments from the pressure..."
"That's not a problem," Frosch said airily. "We've told them we're leaving Earth pretty soon. So we're just fitting in small jobs for them among the packing up and moving on process."
"Although, we might be able to get them some samples, which they can analyse at their leisure," Fereng said thoughtfully.
"That's what we need," Frosch said with a beaming smile, "people who come up with solutions. We'll hold that in reserve in case anyone asks about surveys."
"So this CIA report," said Tolshivar, who had been listening in silence up to this point, "what does it show? That there's close information sharing between the USA. and the UK? Or is it a sign that old No Jacket's administration has been well and truly penetrated by the CIA or whoever?"
"Probably a bit of both," Frosch said as Iktar was explaining to Fereng why our prime minister was called No Jacket.
"Have you thought what you're going to do when the aliens leave Earth?" I asked Frosch.
"Go on holiday for six months," he replied -- to my surprise.
"Straight up?" Tolshivar said. "He's been threatening to do that for ages," he added to me, "but I thought he was having me on."
"I think a bit of time doing nothing much will help everyone to get life back into perspective," Frosch told us. "After all, we Survivors are no longer subject to the imperatives of the pre-dead. And it looks like we're a lot more durable. So there's no need to achieve everything in the first five minutes after we croak."
"Or the first hundred years?" I mentioned, reminding Frosch that he only about a dozen years from celebrating his first century as a Survivor.
"And it's supposed to be good for you to stop doing things until you get an unstoppable urge to get back to doing again," Frosch added, ignoring my crack. "Anyway, are we all fit? We're not on holiday yet."
Iktar and I watched Frosch, Tolshivar and Fereng form themselves into a loose equilateral triangle and beam out. We could sense that they were still there for a few seconds longer -- not instantly 'gone' -- before they streamed off on their mission. But being a convincing alien was all about keeping up the illusion for people who lack our special sense. And, despite the uninformed exposés, we all felt that we were doing a good job of being aliens.
Xanthe and her entourage descended on us a few hours after Frosch and his gang had gone. 'The Posh Lady' looked like a couple of million dollars well spent, as usual. Marivella and Persid seemed to have grown in confidence and they were less subordinates and more equal partners now. Persid had reached the stage of being able to speak fluent English, thanks to Marivella's talents as a teacher.
Xanthe had come across a booklet called The Castles of Britain and we spent the next few days wandering around, educating ourselves. And that's how we came to meet Neroon at Workburgh castle on the Northumberland coast.
All five of us were standing at the battlements on the east side of the castle, watching the grey North Sea trying to batter the life out of the ragged rocks at the foot of a sheer drop of a hundred feet or so. Our heads must have turned as one in the direction of a bloke who had just emerged from a door in a tower at the far end of the wall. It was the old Survivor radar in operation. He approached us casually -- heading in our direction but not actually having us as his destination.
"Yes, we are," Iktar said to him when he seemed to be about to drift past us.
He blinked, stopped and said, "You are what?"
"We're Survivors, like you. All of us," Iktar said.
"Survivors?" he repeated.
"As in we all croaked one way or another but we're still here," I said, thinning myself out to a semi-transparent mist. "And we can do this, as I'm sure you can, too."
"Cool!" said Neroon, taking a closer interest in the ladies.
I re-solidified quickly in case anyone else joined us on the battlements. It was a dull, drizzly day but a fair number of people were wandering around the castle. It takes more than a drop of rain to deter history buffs.
We exchanged some biography while out in the private open. We learned that Neroon had died of kidney failure in 1995, aged thirty-six. He had been buried and he had realized that he was post-dead and still around about a fortnight after his death. That fortnight was a blank space in his memory.
He had visited his grave and read his name on the temporary marker, which was replaced by a headstone when the ground had settled. As a science fiction fan, he had accepted the fact of his survival without alarm. He had 'lurked about a bit' while finding out that he had no bodily needs and no need to do anything but explore the world. While pre-dead, he had been into playing Dungeons & Dragons games and potholing as well as science fiction. He had settled for a post-death round of caving and wandering around in the normally restricted parts of castles.
Neroon stayed with us for the rest of our tour, then he attached himself to Xanthe's group when they headed back to Switzerland. He had decided to check out the castles and caves on the Continent. There was still a lot left for him to do in the British Isles as far as exploring and charting caves was concerned but he had decided that he deserved a summer holiday.
Iktar fired up the computer when we returned to London and began pottering around the World Wide Web in search of something different in the way of holidays. She was still looking for something fairly original when Frosch returned with more news gleaned while sneaking around in places which he was not supposed to visit.